If you ask expats living in Colombia why they fell in love with the country, most will say because of its warm and welcoming people. But once you settle in, you’ll discover that hospitality is just the icing on the cake, because there are endless reasons to retire to Colombia.
In Colombia, you can find unbelievable deals on homes and the cost of living is downright cheap. You can choose a town or city in which to live based upon the type of climate and lifestyle you most enjoy.
Best of all, you’ll be able relish your retirement in a place that will never leave you bored. From the warm waters of the Caribbean to the chilly peaks of Los Nevados, Colombia possesses a wealth of breathtaking landscapes that offer opportunities for adventure and romance.
So let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why Colombia is an excellent place to call home.
1. Enjoy a Great Lifestyle and Climate
Colombia’s geological diversity, tropical climate, and well-placed urban centers make it easy for you to choose a place to live based on your preferred lifestyle. The Andes Mountains run north to south and serve as a dividing line of sorts. Undeveloped jungles occupy most of eastern Colombia, but in the west, you’ll find all types of environments and communities. And since Colombia is located so close to the equator, temperatures stay about the same year-round, regardless of where you live.
If money is no object and you like steamy hot weather—90 F, with 90% humidity—you can’t go wrong with Cartagena, located in the north on the Caribbean Sea. You can hobnob with the rich and famous, enjoy romantic dinners in the historic district, and always have plenty of sun to keep up your tan. If you don’t have a Daddy Warbucks budget, you can enjoy a Caribbean lifestyle in Santa Marta—located four hours northeast of Cartagena—one of Colombia’s oldest colonial cities.
You won’t find a beach in the Coffee Triangle—located in the center of western Colombia—but you will find an amazing variety of climates and communities. Pereira lies in the center of the region and offers a modern lifestyle and comfortable climate—highs around 80 F, with humidity ranging from 75 to 80%. In Salento, one hour south of Pereira, you can relax into small town life and enjoy 60 F temps all year long.
If you love the high energy and cultural offerings of a college town, Popayán, located in southwestern Colombia, is the place for you. Known as the “White City” for its beautifully preserved colonial downtown, Popayán is the birthplace of more presidents than any other Colombian city and has a mild climate, with temperatures around 75 F at midday. In Buga, four hours north of Popayán, you can enjoy 90 F temperatures in a beautiful colonial setting. It’s a unique place—with loads of college students…and iguanas occupying trees in the main plaza—and just one hour north of Cali, where you’ll have plenty of shopping and health care options.
For a truly cosmopolitan lifestyle, consider Medellín—located in the western region, four hours north of Pereira—where daytime highs hover around 80 F and celebrities drop by for tummy tucks. With a modern metro train system and cable cars serving hilltop neighborhoods, Medellín is Colombia’s city of innovation and a hotbed for young entrepreneurs from around the world.
With 65 F temperatures and lots of rain, Bogotá, the nation’s capital, is home to 8 million people. Located in the center of the country, Bogotá always offers loads of cultural events, from free symphony concerts at the National University to international food festivals. In Bogotá, you can shop for the latest European or North American fashions, dine at top rated restaurants, or peruse the latest exhibit at the National Museum. But watch out for dignitaries in fast-moving motorcades.
2. Buy, Build, or Rent Your Dream Home
Dutch expat Daniel Bennekers and his Colombian girlfriend, Alexa Idárraga, bought a 27-room mansion in Pereira for $200,000 and turned it into a hostel and restaurant. Hans Müller and his wife Nancy recently built a 1,930 square foot house outside of Buga for just $62,000.
Although homes in major cities such as Medellín and Bogotá often come with high price tags, houses and apartments in other cities remain affordable. In Pereira, you can buy a new four-bedroom townhouse in the Villa Verde development for less than $40,000. In Manizales, one hour north of Pereira, homes in the trendy Milan district start at around $80,000. And if you want to live in a small town, such as Líbano, located in an agricultural region of central Colombia, you can pick up a three- or four-bedroom house for as little as $25,000 to $50,000.
Developers are building new houses and apartments all over Colombia, but existing homes often offer the best value. Many Colombians consider old homes to be passé, so 30 to 40 year old dwellings sometimes sit on the market for months, or even years, before selling at bargain prices.
If you’d prefer to rent, you can find a home for a fraction of the cost you’d pay in most North American cities. I recently looked at a four-bedroom, five-bath house in Líbano which rents for $360 per month. Former Port Townsend, Washington residents Stefan Schnur and Clint Johnson pay $360 per month for a huge colonial house in Buga, which they share with British expat Richie Holding. And American expats Eliesha Lovell and Daniel Buitron Jaramillo are living the good life in a two-bedroom country home outside Villamaria, a bedroom community of Manizales, which they rent for less than $300 per month.
3. Live a Rich Life for Less
We live a rich life in Colombia, but don’t have to spend a fortune. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round, and in many small towns, you can find organically produced meats at a fraction of the cost you’d expect to pay at Kroger or Safeway.
For breakfast, I often buy a fresh papaya—for under $1—at one of the neighborhood produce markets. In one Buga supermarket, you can buy a whole tuna for less than $4. An avocado will cost you less than $1 and chicken breasts run between $2.50 and $4. And if you have a gourmet cook in the family, he’ll find an abundance of fresh herbs and spices at the farmer’s markets.
Dining out is almost as cheap. In Bogotá, you can chow down on a huge plate of bandeja paisa—a Colombian favorite, with beef, pork, rice, beans, and avocados—for $6 or less. My favorite Líbano lunchtime restaurant charges $2.50 for the daily special. In Salento, you can gorge on a good old-fashioned hamburger at Brunch for $5, or enjoy a curry dish at La Eliana for about the same price.
Gasoline is expensive in Colombia, usually around $5 per gallon, but bus companies and local transit systems can transport you to almost anywhere you want to go. High-speed Internet service costs $25 to $30 per month, and many households pay less than $50 for electricity, natural gas, and water.
4. Paradise Awaits You
Overcrowded national parks in the U.S. often leave you feeling like you’re visiting an amusement park. But that’s not true in Colombia. The country’s diverse landscape offers everything from isolated sandy beaches to dense Amazon jungles to sun scorched deserts. From my home in Líbano, I can see the snow covered peaks of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, and the infamous Nevado Del Ruiz volcano.
From his home in Pereira, Daniel Bennekers can escape the city in minutes and explore dense forests or raft down a raging river. Kim Macphee and Tony Clark often see Toucans at their home in Popayán, and they can pick oranges, avocados, and plantains from trees growing in their backyard.
With more than 50 national parks, you’re never far from a great getaway. But you don’t have to travel to a national park to enjoy a natural setting. Medellín residents often escape for the weekend to the lakeside town of Guatapé, a two hours’ drive east of the city, and folks in Bucaramanga, located north of Bogotá, near the Venezuelan border, travel to San Gil, in northeastern Colombia, where they can go hiking, rafting, or mountain climbing, or simply indulge themselves at a health spa.
5. Rich Culture and a Great Cup of Coffee
Although major cities have all the modern products and services you’d find in the U.S., tradition still reigns in small towns. As I write, the milkman is passing through the neighborhood, delivering fresh milk straight from the farm. A farmer just brought fresh mangos to the neighborhood market and the tamales man will make his rounds at lunchtime.
I brushed up on my salsa dancing moves for the town’s recent New Year’s Eve bash as I looked forward to the year-end parade, one of many held throughout the year, which always features traditional costumes, dancers, and music.
In Colombia, coffee isn’t just a warm beverage, it’s part of the culture. In coffee growing regions like the one I call home, farmers in straw hats and ponchos socialize in bars and cafés alongside bankers and politicians. Searching for Juan Valdez? Well, you won’t have to look far, because he’s everywhere.
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